The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in recent history—millions around the world will likely be infected with this novel coronavirus over the next few months and though not all will develop symptoms or serious illness, the number of individuals at risk of severe disease and death will be substantial.
The best way to slow the spread of the disease in our communities is to immediately implement “social distancing,” putting physical space between each of us to break the chain of viral transmission. Part of social distancing is to limit the size of public gatherings, asking people to work from home if they can, and emptying institutions where individuals congregate in large numbers on a regular basis. Social distancing also can reduce the burden on healthcare facilities by decreasing the surge of new cases of symptomatic disease. We seek to avoid overwhelming local hospitals like Yale New Haven Hospital and community clinics such as Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center and the Fair Haven Community Health Center.
This week, Yale University decided to ask its students not to come back after spring break for just this reason: schools and universities are institutional amplifiers of infection, environments that by close contact and proximity expose people to higher risk than many other aspects of everyday life. However, the evidence on school closures in pandemic situations is mixed. Thus, Yale’s decisions to move from on-campus classrooms to online courses and New Haven’s decision to close schools are reasonable ones, even if the evidence-for-action is incomplete at this time.
We recognize that leaders often must make difficult decisions with partial information. As an institution committed to research, education, and service, we are committed to sharing our expertise and the knowledge on coronavirus being garnered at the Yale School of Public Health and by our partners in the larger Yale scientific community as it develops over the next weeks to assist policy makers including Mayor Elicker and the New Haven Board of Alders as they struggle with decisions regarding schools, the homeless, health care, and other issues. The Yale School of Public Health will support the city in any way it can, particularly as our community seeks to evaluate the impact of the closures of the schools, seeking and sharing new information as it emerges on the extent of community-wide transmission of the novel coronavirus emerges in New Haven and the state.